Christmas Markets in Europe – Glühwein and Gingerbread!

As the festive season approaches, more and more people are using it as a great excuse to take a short break visiting a European Christmas Market. As well as buying presents different from the usual fare found at home, it provides an opportunity to visit some of Europe’s most attractive cities, avoiding the tourist crowds of the summer months.

Christmas Market
Christmas Market in the Champs-Élysées, Paris

And of course sampling glühwein with gingerbead or stollen cakes gives the feel that Christmas is well on its way.

As a retired senior traveller, I choose to take such breaks mid-week so as to get the best air fares and have even less tourists around than at weekends.

There are hundreds of Christmas Markets around Europe, most having a great traditional atmosphere, so which one to choose?

To help you decide, Post Office Money has just published a report comparing 12 of the more popular Christmas Markets venues in 2015; it gives the costs for a two night break, with airfares, hotels, meals and Christmas Market refreshments all included.

Here are details of the 12 cities surveyed, starting with the least expensive. The total cost for the two night break is given in parentheses. I’ve also included some details on two extra Christmas Markets that I have particularly enjoyed visiting – these are in Paris and Lincoln.

The Danube in Budapest
The Danube in Budapest

Budapest (£405)

If you’ve never been to Budapest then you’ve a great treat in store at this least expensive of the 12 cities. If you’ve been before, then simply enjoy the Christmas Market which runs from 13 Nov  to 6 Jan.

It’s held in Vörösmarty Square, one block east of the Danube and close to the northern end of Budapest’s most famous shopping street, the Váci utca. The Market is even open on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day, but for food and beverage only.

Prague (£458)

Prague is one of my Top Ten Cities of the World and is a great place to visit whatever time of the year, although I always try to avoid the busy summer season. The Old Town Square, where the Christmas Market is held between 28 Nov and 6 Jan, is located between Wenceslas Square (where another Christmas Market is held) and the iconic Charles Bridge. For the first time this year, a Market will also be held at Prague Castle.

Charles Bridge in Prague
Charles Bridge in Prague

Brussels (£495)

The Brussels Winter Wonders Christmas Market is in the Grand-Place from the end of Nov to the beginning of Jan. In addition to the usual market stalls, there are magical son & lumière illuminations, a large wheel and an ice rink.

Hopefully the recent security lock-down in Brussels will not deter visitors and they can join residents to enjoy the festive season.

Baltic Quartet: Copenhagen (£510), Riga (£528), Tallinn (£560), Stockholm (£608)

These four Baltic Christmas Markets may well have wintry weather and snow-fall in December to add to the Christmas atmosphere. However, bear in mind that by mid-December there only about 6 hours daylight compared with 9 hours in more southerly cities like Budapest, which can limit sight-seeing.

I first visited Copenhagen 50 years ago and remember vividly the Tivoli Gardens – quite unique in those days before theme parks became ten-a-penny. I was therefore not surprised to find out that this is the site of Copenhagen’s Christmas Fair from mid-Nov to the beginning of Jan. Check out the 60 or more stalls and enjoy fireworks from 25 to 27 Dec and again from 31 Dec to 3 Jan.

Marienplatz in Munich
Marienplatz in Munich

Riga’s Market is in Dome Square from 29 Nov to 7 Jan; Tallinn’s is in Town Hall Square from 21 Nov to 8 Jan; and Stockholm’s is in the Old Town from 21 Nov to 23 Dec.

Germany: Berlin (£536), Munich (£570)

Germany is where Christmas Markets originated way back in the Middle Ages and arguably Germany still does them best! And of course Germany is the home of glühwein and stollen cake, both synonymous with Christmas. Berlin’s Market is in Gendarmenmarkt from 23 Nov to 31 Dec and Munich’s is in Marienplatz from 27 Nov to 24 Dec.

France: Lille (£548), Strasbourg (£558), Paris

Maybe France needs some support this Christmas after the atrocities of 13 Nov. So check out the Markets in Lille in Place Rihour from 18 Nov to 30 Dec (easily reached by Eurostar) and in Strasbourg in Place de la Cathédrale from 27 Nov to 31 Dec.

Snail stallAs I write this article, I am in Paris for a short break and visited the Village of Noël on the Champs-Élysées earlier today.

There are over 200 wooden stall – including one selling snails – plus an ice-rink and the 60 m high Ferris Wheel at Rue de la Concorde. If you have time to visit this spectacular Christmas Market, then you won’t be disappointed. It runs from 13 Nov to 3 Jan.

Lincoln Cathedral Towering over the Christmas Market
Lincoln Cathedral

Vienna (£653)

Maybe the most expensive of the 12 cities, but still well worth considering if only for Vienna’s excellent coffee houses and delicious cakes. The Christmas Market is held in the City Hall from mid-Nov to the end of Dec.

Designer Goods

The Post Office Money report also compares the prices of a shopping basket of designer goods in the 12 cities and found that Munich was the cheapest. However the fun of Christmas Markets is in sampling and buying the local goods not designer items you get anywhere!

Lincoln Christmas Market

Of course you don’t need to travel abroad for an atmospheric Christmas Market; there is a great one in Lincoln by the Castle, but only from 3 to 6 Dec.

Whilst in Lincoln, make certain to visit the Cathedral that towers over the city. This magnificent building has been around for over 500 years and from  1311 to 1549 was the world’s tallest man-made structure!